Rose Wilder Lane And The Discovery Of Freedom

In 1943, a lady by the name of Rose Wilder Lane published a book called The Discovery of Freedom. It’s an absolutely original work of non-fiction, a salvo to human energy and the creative mind unshackled, and it influenced classic liberals and libertarians beyond number — and yet it has largely gone unacknowledged.

From a semi-recent review:

“Rose Wilder Lane sought to highlight the difference it made in America that the individual was permitted freedom from government authority. The Americans broke from the idea that dominated all over human history that they must depend on some overarching authority in government to grant them well being, and thus when good happens, we owe ever more to the powers that be.”

Quoting a Canadian writer named Jeff Walker, who evidently did not care for Ayn Rand:

Dozens of motifs and expressions to be found later in Ayn Rand are sprinkled all throughout The Discovery of Freedom. Some of Rand’s favorite words and phrases, like “sunlit,” “standard of value,” “life on this earth,” “savages,” “stagnation,” “non-contradiction,” “static universe,” and countless others dot Discovery’s landscape. The same goes for themes that Rand borrowed from Wilder, completely unacknowledged, such as: the counterproductivity of government planning; the case for limited government; the factual nature of morality; that contradictions cannot exist in reality; that words have an exact meaning; that human rights cannot exist without property rights.

Rose Wilder Lane was also unveiled in the 1990s as the true author of the Little House on the Prairie series, normally attributed to her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder. But it is for her credo Give Me Liberty and especially The Discovery of Freedom that Rose Wilder Lane must not be forgotten. She was a fearless and exceptional woman who took on politicians, journalists, economists (like the great Ludwig von Mises, with whom she profoundly disagreed on the subject of Democracy), heads of state, and more.

Rose Lane Wilder, RIP:

1886 – 1968

9 Comments

  • Redmond

    March 14, 2010

    I am going to buy that book tonight!

  • Ray

    March 14, 2010

    Yes, yes, I highly recommend it.

  • WastedEnergy

    March 15, 2010

    Ayn Rand is really just another authoritarian hack; in her case, the authority was her ideology, and she was more than willing to step on toes and attack anyone who dared to deviate from it. She died friendless of lung cancer with only a nurse at her side because she systematically alienated or frightened off everyone who had been a part of her movement. She is a great example of how authoritarian capitalism/corporatism, the logical extreme of free-market ideology, is no different from government authoritarianism. A total rejection of all forms of government activity and deification of corporate authority figures and business supergiants is about as anti-freedom as you can get.

    Rand was a hack no different from today’s “Tea Partyists,” nothing more. This gal, on the other hand, seems like she might have been the Real McCoy.

  • Ray

    March 16, 2010

    Actually, she didn’t die of lung cancer (nor did she die entirely friendless). She had had a lung removed some years before, and quit smoking after. She died of pulmonary fibrosis, but lived well into her seventies.

    Wasted energy wrote: > She is a great example of how authoritarian capitalism/corporatism, the logical extreme of free-market ideology, is no different from government authoritarianism.

    That’s also incorrect. Capitalism by definition is the opposite of authoritarianism. What you’re describing is called protectionism, also known as interventionism, also known as mercantilism, also known as socialism — specifically, socialism before Karl Marx. Capitalism is the inalienable right of each individual to her or his own life and property – and only his or her own life and property – which includes the corollary freedom to trade that property.

  • WastedEnergy

    March 24, 2010

    Still something she very much left open: the difference between capitalism and corporatism. If capitalism is about maximizing individual freedom, corporatism and its valorization of executives and business leaders as paragons of virtue in society – the core of the Ayn Rand ideology – is in many ways its opposite: it presumes that only the wealthy are able to, or worthy of, accurately judging self-interest. The rest of us are basically scum who need these giants to make our decisions for us, lest we make uninformed choices that might advance the causes of “altruism” and social justice!

    In other words, Ayn Rand was a socialist! A real capitalist would simply throw off the burdens of a corporate society as unnecessary, would she not? Do all the things advertised to us really have the effect of improving the quality of our own lives? Or am I just bringing down the true giants of our society and preventing us from being led in a better direction, through my stubborn refusal to buy a Salad Shooter? ;)

  • BedazzledCrone

    March 24, 2010

    I’ll let you all know what I think after I have read “Goddess of the the Market”. I’ve read the intro just started the first chapter. I read the last few pages (for this comment – oh, no I’ve spoiled the ending – :). It would appear that Ayn died of pneumonia, after coming back to New York from a standing ovation in New Orleans. While she did die at home, she was 76, and a nurse was with her when she died. She had 24 hour nursing care so that she could die at home. The few pages before that does not make it sound as if she died friendless or without many admirers. Her funeral was attended by over a thousand people.

    I won’t really be able to spend time reading it until April, but all the main characters are in the index including her relationship with Rose Wilder Lane. So far, it has been a good read. The author has a great style.

    Who’d want a Salad Shooter? What is a Salad Shooter anyway?

  • Ray

    March 25, 2010

    WastedEnergy wrote: > corporatism and its valorization of executives and business leaders as paragons of virtue in society – the core of the Ayn Rand ideology

    That also is incorrect.

    WastedEnergy wrote: > it presumes that only the wealthy are able to, or worthy of, accurately judging self-interest.

    That also is incorrect. There’s a rather pervasive notion, propagated by cottage economists (so-called) like WastedEnergy, and others of the socialist-communitarian ilk, that corporations are creatures of the state. Thus corporations are state protected. This provenance of this false premise is found in 1066 AD, after the Normans conquered England. At that time, the land became the public property of William the Conqueror, who, in turn, granted military and police protection to the people who lived on “his” land, in exchange for their loyalty – loyalty of course meaning taxes.

    There was at that time no real knowledge of individual rights or private property – those things being products of free societies – and so accordingly, as will invariably happen when the rights of the individual are abrogated, a lengthy and systematic process of extortion began. The system amounted to “blackmail on the part of the Crown against its subjects. In effect the King says: ‘I will destroy you, seize your land and personal property unless you satisfy me with payment’” (A.L. Poole, Obligations of Society in the XII and XIII Centuries).

    These arrangements were not optional, of course, but in exchange for the money, the people were protected from the local nobles, appointed by the King himself – nobles, it should be noted, who were often even more demanding of the people’s money. So that in essence the King was protecting the people from his own lieutenants.

    As Robert Hessen states on page 4 of his limpid book In Defense of the Corporation:

    “The primary beneficiary of this curious system of extortion were the boroughs, guilds, churches, and charities of medieval England. Each of these organizations was known as a ‘corporation,’ although none was a corporation in the sense of being a private, profit-seeking business venture based on investment.”

    How these non-business institutions came to be called corporations at all, and why they are still upheld today as forerunners to our current mega-corporation, is another story, for another time.
    The details are boring, but the main arguments against corporations run more or less like this:
    Corporations receive special privileges from the government. They receive entity status, perpetual duration status, and limited liability status. Hence, they are a creature of the state. Hence, they should be outlawed (by the state).

    Corporations do indeed possess all three of those things, but those things are not products of the state.

    The contractual theory of corporations refutes these claims categorically and demonstrates, with devastating logic, “that men have a natural right to form a corporation by contract for their own benefit, welfare, and mutual self-interest.” To illustrate the point briefly (please pay attention WastedEnergy):

    Imagine a society in which the government did not involve itself at all in the commerce or business transactions of the citizens.

    Imagine a society with a government whose sole purpose was to protect each individual from the initiation of force.

    In such a society, citizens would be free to form friendships, partnerships, and contracts in whatever form they desired. They would be free to invest, buy stock, buy options, and they would be free to sell to anyone who was interested in buying their products. They would be free to grow as wealthy as the market allowed, and all transactions, on both the buyer’s side and the seller’s side, would be voluntary and freely chosen. In short, they would be free to do anything they wished, and they would be free to grow as rich as they possibly could, provided they did not, in any way, infringe upon the equal rights of others.

    Now whether you agree in theory with such a system is not now relevant. The point here is that in such a society some businesses would fail and others would succeed. Others would grow spectacularly rich, while others would not.

    The ones that grew wealthy would do so because they sold products that consumers chose to purchase in large quantities.

    In a free society, such as we’ve outlined above, the attainment of phenomenal wealth is not only totally permissible but meritorious.

    As long as women and men do not infringe upon the rights of other men and women, each are free to live as each wants.

    The contractual theory of corporations, which states that humans are at liberty to engage in business partnerships and arrangements, is the only theory faithful to those facts and the only theory in line with the principles of a free society.

    Doing away with mega-corporations, as, for instance, the anti-industrialists want, would require a bureaucratic institution so massive that it would dwarf the current bureaucracy we now have – and that’s saying a lot.

    It would require furthermore that the government regulate all industry and produce all industry – to such an extent that profits never rose above certain specified levels.

    Among other things, it would mean that the law of supply and demand, money and the profit motive, which provides the crucial incentive to better your life, all be thrown out the window in favor of politicians and bureaucrats trying to regulate things for you, and they do so, moreover, by regulating the goods and services we all need and want.

    Here is an abbreviated list of things done away with if supply and demand and the profit motive, and thus big corporations, are done away with, as WastedEnergy calls for:

    Grocery stores including Safeway, King Sooper, Kroger, City Market, Albertsons, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Ralphs, and many others besides would be instantly dissolved. Roughly 99 percent of all items in those stores would dissolve as well.

    All your brand-name bicycles, snowboards, skateboards, skis, automobiles, motorcycles, scooters, airplanes, boats, and much more would be gone. The individual parts for each of those items would also vanish.

    The furniture and appliances that fill your homes, and even, in most cases, the lumber and other material that make up your homes, is abolished.

    Your brand-name clothing and accessories of every kind, be it shoes, socks, pants, shirts, handbags, hats, undergarments, lingerie, makeup, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, even Tom’s of Maine, gone in a moment.

    All shops, stores, plazas, malls, and even convenient stores, and virtually every single item in these stores, including candy, gum, Gatorade, ice cream, oil, antifreeze, and gasoline, are taken away.

    As is medicine, both over-the-counter and prescription.

    And motels and hotels.

    Books, bookstores.

    Musical CDs and instruments; movies; most all other entertainment as well.

    Approximately 99 percent of the soda and alcoholic beverages you and I consume, including brew from so-called “small craft breweries,” all fall under big corporation status. Back to bootlegging!

    Please consider this far-from-exhaustive list of goods and services next time you or someone you love is bad-mouthing Super Wal-Mart for providing quality products at prices cheaper by far than any protectionist country can dream of matching.

    Consider it when you think of the poor of the world and how in Corporate America everyone, including the poor, can purchase products at far cheaper prices than any place else in the world.

    Consider the mediocre wages and no-benefits packages that many mom-and-pop businesses offer compared to the big boys whom you loathe.

    Finally, consider it next time you start to walk into a Super Wal-Mart and then realize that you are free to turn around and not walk in there, if you choose, but in a state-run economy, where industry is nationalized, you possess no such freedom at all, because no such choice exists.

  • Capitalist

    March 25, 2010

    A friend of mine grew up in the Soviet Union. He is Jewish, for which he was discriminated against in many ways, and he has told me about some of those discriminations. At the first opportunity to flee that totalitarian state, he got away and found his way to America.

    He told me of his astonishment when he first got here, and the amazing abundance of cheap goods – like bread and shoes – for which he used to have to stand in line with no guarantee any would be left when his turn came.

    WastedEnergy dreams of the Soviet-style utopia of government-provided everything, but will not be put out to go to such a place. Instead, he would prefer to impose that kind of totalitarian rule on us, so we can enjoy the discrimination of “social justice” and abundance of government-provided goods and services.

    My immigrant friend now laments the direction this once-free country has taken as Democrats nationalize everything they can. Now that health care has been legislated as a right to basic need, food and housing are next. Note they have already corrupted housing, which is what has us in economic crisis in the first place.

    Again, Ray, great exposé.

  • Brannon

    October 19, 2013

    There are a number of fundamental difficulties that Ray ignores within his own reasoning. One, is the possibility that, with democratic disasters like ‘Citizens United’ create, executives and CEOs do orchestrate the workings of domestic and international policy. Two, is the logical blanket he throws on the production of goods, saying something like they are created because of capitalistic dreams, when they are primordially dreamed for underlying reasons to create purpose in creators’ lives. Intangible systems hardly create the intangible energies needed to sustainably manifest quality goods. (Call it what you will: it’s tyranny coming from both directions.) Human spirit does. Nor is it mentioned that most of these goods are unnecessary luxury items that do not keep mankind unraveling but give him inauthentic reprieve from the bombardment of inescapable advertisements that he absorbs throughout his day. And if it is still thought that ‘the poor of America can purchase these items cheaper than any place in the world’, Ray must be considering the items that are made in the ‘3rd world’ with 3rd world resources, arrested, and shipped to the ‘1st world’. What’s free about that enterpise?

    Another thing before I get back to work. There is little choice in owning property. Today, one must own property in The States in order ‘to make a living’. This relates to the insurance that he must gather, 401K, etc. that only the ‘free enterprise system’ is providing. So, the beacon of freedom for capitalists, property, is today their biggest ball and chain.

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